Posted Sunday, September 10, 7 p.m.
Bethany Beach Mayor Jack Walsh said of Saturday’s town council election results, “It’s a shocker,” referring to the ouster of incumbents Harry Steele and Lew Killmer from the council.
But Walsh had a shocker of his own to deliver this weekend, resigning from the council in the midst of their reorganizational meeting Sunday evening, after council members selected Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead to become mayor.
Olmstead had nominated Walsh to continue in the position, while Council Member Jerry Dorfman nominated Olmstead to take over as mayor. Dorfman himself was re-elected Saturday with a five-vote margin over Council Member Lew Killmer and a six-vote margin over Council Member Harry Steele.
After the meeting and making no apologies for the opinion, Dorfman said, “I believe everyone ought to have a chance to serve as mayor.”
In the mayoral vote, Olmstead received four votes from the newly reconfigured council; Walsh received two votes in the final tally. McClenny – nominated by new council member Tracy Mulligan – received one vote, and not his own or Mulligan’s. Thus Olmstead was elected to serve as mayor.
Council members then received single nominations and gave unanimous votes in favor of McClenny as vice-mayor and Dorfman as secretary-treasurer.
It was a week of high emotions and election-related surprises, and it was not yet over. In closing out the process, Walsh said he had a statement he wanted to make.
“I feel for me to continue would be awkward and unfulfilling,” he said, announcing his resignation from the council.
And despite the clear shock of the mayoral selection, Walsh then read from what appeared to be a statement prepared for just such a circumstance, saying that he and his wife, Jeri, were at a stage in their lives when they wanted to “optimize our experiences, minimize uncertainties and live our lives to the fullest.”
And that meant resigning his council seat in the wake of not being selected to continue as mayor for a second full year.
Council members and others in attendance were taken aback by the announcement. Some protested, asking Walsh to reconsider. He proceeded to say that he had been privileged to serve in office for the town and praised the employees and officials with whom he had been involved during his time on the council and as mayor. And, finally, he congratulated all those who had won in the election.
Olmstead then spoke for many in addressing the shifts that had taken place in the town in the past year.
“A year ago, we didn’t have an election,” she said. “Everything was copasetic. This has been a time when a lot of change was called for and has happened.”
Olmstead then thanked Walsh for his service to the town. Meeting attendees joined in that sentiment, rising to a standing ovation for the outgoing mayor and council member.
“I know the council in front of you right now will do a good job,” Walsh said in closing out Sunday’s meeting.
He was immediately surrounded by new and former council members, their spouses and other town officials – none of whom had expected the evening’s turn of events and some of whom were visibly upset.
“I told him it was a bad decision,” former Council Member Harold Steele said later of his brief conversation with Walsh over the resignation.
Steele was his usual blithe self in the wake of Saturday’s defeat after two terms on the council and countless hours devoted to the town’s drainage problems. He joked with Killmer about their shared losses in the voting and appeared to reflect the attitude he later said the loss had raised.
“I lost. I’m disappointed, but I’m not upset,” he said. “If you’re willing to step up to serve, you have to be willing to lose,” he added, referring to the nature of the democratic process. Steele said the loss wasn’t entirely a negative. His wife’s reaction to the news, as he reported it Sunday: “I’m sorry, but – yes!”
In the wake of Sunday’s dramatic turn of events, Steele said he yet didn’t know whether he might put himself forward for the coming council appointment to Walsh’s now-empty council seat. Likewise, Killmer may be reconsidering whether he wants to again sit at the council table.
Both men were lauded over the weekend, numerous times, as some of the hardest working members of the council. And their narrow margin of loss for their council seats would suggest that neither was roundly rejected by the voters. With only a single vote separating the two of them and just a handful of votes between them and Dorfman, this year’s election proved not only to be one of surprise and significant change, but also a very close contest.
“I was surprised,” new Council Member Steve Wode said Sunday of his election victory. “It was so close. It could have gone another way. I don’t think the issues raised resonated with everyone,” he added.
Wode’s fellow successful challenger, non-resident Tracy Mulligan, was looking ahead Sunday to his service on the council. He said only, “Like everyone else elected, I’m going to do the very best job I know how to do.”
It’s a sentiment that bears consideration in this year of controversial votes and heated rhetoric from some dissatisfied citizens in Bethany Beach. The election of 2006 has reshuffled the deck in the town’s government, and no one yet knows what the resulting payoff for its citizens will be.
One determining factor may be the person who is eventually selected to fill Walsh’s seat on the council. As is customary, the town will advertise for applicants for the position and then hold a special meeting at which they will vote among whichever candidates have put themselves forward.
In addition to Steele and Killmer, candidates Charles Gravatte and Joseph Healy Jr., who closed out the field on Saturday, may also have an interest in the spot. And, indeed, the position is open to any citizen of the town – resident or non-resident – who is 21 or older and has not been convicted of a felony.
As with the losses by Steele and Killmer, Walsh’s resignation will also impact upon town committees – most notably on the town’s Communication Committee, which Walsh has chaired. That committee will need a new chairman, as will the committees chaired by the other two outgoing council members.
The council will have to make those decisions, as well as a possible new appointment to Killmer’s Planning Commission seat, in the coming days and weeks.